J Taylor-Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
Now this is a film and a half!
Much like Sunset Boulevard, this was a film I went into with high, high expectations for. This is partly due to it being another film David Lynch (someone take a tally for how many times I mention that name...) lists as one of his favourites and also because of how highly the film is held not only in the wonderful r/Letterboxd community but also by film critics and fans alike.
Similarly to Sunset Boulevard, 8½ blew me away. It bowled me over. I was stunned by how much I loved it; a great thing for me, a not so great thing for writing a review because it means I'll have to try to formulate something coherent...
From the opening scene of the film, it was evident that this was something for me. As I watch more and more films and become more and more engaged with Letterboxd and the community surrounding it, I find that I've been able to really refine my taste and I think this is a clear example of that. 8½ opens with a fantastically surreal dream sequence - essentially the little label that says 'Jay will enjoy this to some degree'. Not only was this great for me in realising that my taste is really refining itself and that I'm on the road to finding loads of weird and wonderful films but it was a fantastic start, a brilliant introduction to the piece. The whole film is, to put it in simple terms, bananas; bananas in the greatest way possible. This initial sequence masterfully sets the tone, the pace and the nature of what is to follow and it feels like Fellini is strapping you in for a ride of a lifetime with you in the back and him at the wheel.
The actual journey of the film (I'm sticking with the metaphor) is even more fun. In a similar way to Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, which were both obviously influenced by this film, 8½ dips in and out of dreamscapes frequently. I knew that this was something that happened before putting the film on, I had heard Lynch speak about the reasons he loves the film and this was one of the reasons. I wasn't expecting anything particularly Lynchian but I also wasn't expecting the way the dreams 'unfold' to be so matter of fact. I say that like it's a criticism, which it is not at all!
8½ exists within Guido's world, it's a film about Guido's perspective and it sticks to that so well. You may have gathered that I'm a fan of David Lynch and his style. Those who know me well have probably sat through me gushing about the mastery of Mulholland Drive's narrative structure. I previously thought nothing could come close to matching my admiration for the structure and story of that film but this one has certainly come close. I was in awe of the way the dreams of this film and reality were stuck together. I adored how they existed as two separate parts in one whole and I was completely astounded by their occasional and increasing bleeds into eachother. Fellini has created something truly spectacular here, something I may spend just as much time trying to wrap my head around as I do Mulholland Drive.
Apart from how much I loved the structure and the story of the film, it's also worth saying how fantastically other elements contributed to the wonder of the film. I've already touched upon the atmosphere but I intentionally haven't mentioned the music. I'm running out of adjectives to describe just how great things were but the music matches everything else. It adds so much to the film in such an incredible way, making it delightfully manic and joyful, creating this fascinating fantasy effect that ensnared quicker than anything else. I've still got the final song stuck in my head. Conversely, there were also several instances of genuinely creepy pieces of music, mainly during dream sequences. The close proximity of these as well as sudden dips in music created such a unique playground in the atmosphere that I simply fell in love with.
Last, but certainly not least, here's to the actors, every damned one of them. 8½ has so many places to get distracted. There is so much going on that it becomes a real task to keep up and remain involved with all of the characters, particularly the smaller parts. However, the characters in this film are played with such vigor, such magnetic force that it often becomes a war between atmosphere and character for who is going to win the attention of the audience. Everything is done with such flamboyance and it makes everything seem absolutely perfect.
Everytying in the entire film fits so well together: the big sets, the dreams, the music, the costumes, the locations, all of it, this huge beautiful mess that has completely and utterly taken over my mind and will hold it triumphantly for a very, very long time. Thank you to the r/Letterboxd film club for finally giving me the push to watch this. I hope you know what you've done...